My friend Ratnasuri, who has died aged 96, led a conventional life as Beryl Carey until she converted to Buddhism and entered the Triratna order at the age of 60. Two years later, in 1985, she found herself going down a bumpy track to Cornhill Farm in Shropshire with a team of others determined to create the first permanent women’s Buddhist retreat centre in the UK, which they called Taraloka.
After two more years living and teaching at Taraloka, Ratnasuri was asked, on behalf of her teacher, to assist with the ordination of the first two women in India to enter Triratna – a momentous request and responsibility. Having never been to the subcontinent she was initially scared, wondering how she would cope with speaking to the large crowds that would attend the event. But she reasoned: “I get nervous speaking in front of five people, what difference does it make if there’s 500?”
In 1989 Ratnasuri became one of three women to lead ordinations on their own – the first time women had done so in the Triratna order, ushering in an ordination lineage in which women ordained women.
Born in Norwich to Maud (nee Metcaalf) and William Carey, a tailor, Beryl was one of two surviving triplets, and was so small at birth that she had to be fed by a dropper from a fountain pen. She left school at 13, attended Norwich Junior Art school, then did an apprenticeship as a window dresser at a department store in the city. In 1942, aged 19, she volunteered for army service in the second world war, and worked on anti-aircraft batteries.
Following the war she returned to Norwich, where she met and married Thomas Dewane, a bricklayer. They had two sons, Kevin and Peter, and Beryl worked as a lab technician at the Milk Marketing Board. After the children had grown up, she and Thomas separated, and in her mid-50s she took up yoga and attended the Norwich Buddhist Centre. In 1983 she was ordained into the Triratna order and was given her new name. Soon afterwards she became an anagārika, a person who commits herself to a simple life and celibacy, following the example of the Buddha.
In Sanskrit, Ratna means jewel and Suri means heroine. Ratnasuri was indeed a jewel and a heroine – a kind, generous and creative person who pioneered ways for women to practise Buddhism in the modern world.
Peter died in 2005. She is survived by Kevin.
Source: The Guardian